Jun 11, 2020
How the Snyder Cut and a child’s question sum up modern fandom
So my daughter and I are both big fans of the anime series Inuyasha. I would tell you what it’s about, but like a lot of shows in the stateside anime boom of the late ’90s/early 2000s, there’s a lot going on in the story, and I can’t possibly do it justice here without taking up as much space as this column will allow. So if you’re a fan of anime, and/or you’re into fantasy, and/or you like your fantasy based on cultural elements besides the usual Medieval Western European tropes, then it’s worth a watch.
But thanks to COVID-19 giving us a lot more free time, my daughter and I plowed through seven seasons and four movies in the series. As we got ready to start the final season, my daughter asked why it was called The Final Act. I told her it was because it was the final season they made and that they wanted to make it special. My daughter’s face froze. She couldn’t believe it. How could her favorite watch-with-dad show be coming to an end?
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It took all my dad powers to prevent her from breaking down crying (she’s seven, by the way, so lay off, trolls). In a way, I couldn’t blame her. She’s being raised in an era where new installments come out all the time. There always seems to be a new something of your favorite franchise coming any day now. So the idea that Inuyasha was, you know, over, never occurred to her. Kids, right?
So a day later, she asks me who the creators of Inuyasha are. Off the top of my head, I could recall that Rumiko Takahashi wrote the original manga the show was based on, and that a company made the show, but I couldn’t remember which one. My daughter then said, and this is a quote that I’m recalling as best I can, “Okay, so can you call them and ask them if they can make just one more season of Inuyasha? I think there should be one more season so we know what happens after.” I remember laughing. Not just at the aching sincerity in her voice, but the very simple way she viewed the situation. In her seven-year-old mind, it really was as simple as just asking the creators to make more of her favorite show.
Then I thought about it, and I realized she had just summed up everything wrong with modern fandom.
The times, they are a-changin’
By now readers, you’ve heard that they’re finally releasing the myth, the legend, the Snyder Cut! That’s right, Justice League will finally be released in the form it was meant to be seen in. No more of Joss Whedon’s quips or funny-looking Superman mustache face. We’ll get Zack Snyder’s unfiltered artistic vision! And all because fanboys would not stop bitching about it after the disappointment of DC hiring Whedon to cobble together a story based on the stuff Snyder shot but couldn’t edit because of family tragedy. Victory for the little guys!
This isn’t the first time this has happened in the history of entertainment. Public demand often forces the hand of creators and the entertainment companies that work with them, ever since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to bring Sherlock Holmes back from the dead. While fan outcry can lead to good outcomes, it can also lead to bad ones. The original series of Star Trek was revived for a third season due to massive fan letter writing campaign, but as this site has already covered, they slashed the budget, put a hack in one of the executive producer’s chairs, and this resulted in a season that contains the lion’s share of bad episodes in the show’s run. But the results of other efforts to revive shows have had better results. So this isn’t a knock against fan campaigns; it’s more of the sense of entitled expectations that keeps creeping to the surface.
I’m old enough to remember that a “next” movie or season or installment was no guarantee. As a young Star Wars fan growing up watching the original trilogy on VHS, I remember talking with other fans about if we would ever get episodes I, II, and III. For over a decade, Lucasfilm went completely dark on the question of whether Star Wars would ever continue. We had no idea what George Lucas’s plans were, and it wasn’t until after the Special Editions came out (more on them later) that we got any word on what was up with the prequel trilogy.
In the days when fan forums were in their infancy, you had no idea when the “next” something in any franchise was coming out, especially movies, until the last one ran its course. The one series that still does this consistently is the James Bond franchise. They release one, and you don’t hear who the next director is, who’s doing the theme song, or what the title is until the last one has left theaters. Most movie franchises work like this, even nowadays, but it feels like with the sudden popularity of cinematic universes, younger cinephiles may not remember when studios calling their shots decades in advance was a rarity.
That’s honestly where Marvel Studios lost me: when they started announcing their release schedule years into the future. Star Wars lost me even earlier, when they announced their “slate” before The Force Awakens even came out. So Disney was promising us a new Star Wars movie every year into infinity, all before we even knew if Disney making Star Wars was a good idea? (Side note: I have to ask, is having more Star Wars really been that great? I thought the debate about the prequels was mean-spirited, but we’ve gotten five Star Wars films since Disney bought Lucasfilm, and no one is happy. I don’t know what the consensus will be in the future, but the biggest question dividing the fanbase right now is: do you hate The Last Jedi or The Rise of Skywalker more? We have more Star Wars on the big screen than ever before, and no one seems satisfied.)
When the Marvel movies were a trickle, I enjoyed seeing the end credits or mid-credits sequences to learn what new character was on the horizon and get a preview of what to expect. When that trickle became a deluge, and we got to know what the next ten movies Marvel had planned for us were, it didn’t seem as special anymore. There were no more curveballs now that we knew the studio had already figured everything out for the next five years. So if you weren’t a big fan of superhero movies, or were getting a little tired of them, too bad! You’re getting at least three a year for the next decade.
This had the effect of other studios asking, “What have we got?” and then trying to form their own cinematic universes, from DC’s very hit-or-miss efforts at catching up to Marvel, to Universal’s laughably still-born attempt to make their iconic monsters into a shared continuity. (Pro tip to studios: Don’t hire Alex Kurtzman to jump-start your cinematic universe. He was one of Michael Bay’s chosen hacks back in the aughts, and he’s spent the last decade ruining Star Trek for all time. Stop trusting this man with millions of dollars and iconic properties.)
Keep trying until they get it right?
Speaking of Star Wars, there’s another controversy from the past that you young ‘uns probably don’t remember, or weren’t even alive for.
Before the prequels… there were the Special Editions.
Yes, in 1997, for the 20th anniversary of Star Wars, Lucasfilm released the original trilogy in theaters with remastered sound and “updated special effects”. They even restored some deleted scenes, and updated the score in places. And now, most of the “official” releases of the original trilogy in the new millennium have been the Special Editions, and George Lucas was still tinkering with them right up until Disney purchased Lucasfilm. I won’t lie; I enjoyed both seeing Star Wars on the big screen and the Special Editions at the time. But as I got older, I soured on them.
You see, I still own VHS tapes of the original trilogy. I can watch the original Star Wars trilogy in all its grainy, full screen, Hi-Fi audio glory. Since the release of the Special Editions, you can’t find the original releases of the original trilogy anymore. The Special Editions have become the “definitive” versions, according to George Lucas. I’m willing to say that nostalgia may have something to do with my reticence to watch the Special Editions, since I was raised on the VHS tapes, after all. But one salient fact about the Special Editions can’t be ignored: They don’t really improve upon the original movies… at all.
Which brings us, finally, to the Snyder Cut.
Full disclosure: I’ve never really been a fan of Zack Snyder. Starting with 300, I’ve found his movies to be little more than slightly better versions of Michael Bay’s aesthetic. I can’t say he’s made a movie that I have unambiguously liked. So the Snyder Cut isn’t really for me, and fans of Snyder and his work are perhaps right to question what I have to say.
In some ways, big and small, I can see where the “#ReleaseTheSnyderCut” crowd is coming from. Snyder never got the chance to finish the film that he had been supervising since the development stage. He left not over creative differences, but a family tragedy, and he needed to properly mourn his daughter’s passing. You could argue that Warner Brothers should have delayed production and allowed him to finish it. They didn’t, because apparently they wanted their executives to get their bonuses before the AT&T merger (true story; fucking Hollywood). So in some small way, I can see why the Snyder Cut aficionados feel the way they do.
That being said, Snyder isn’t the first filmmaker to have a project not turn out the way he wanted because of real life circumstances, and he won’t be the last. What makes Snyder’s experience so different? Since the beginning of Hollywood, studio interference has been a constant challenge for filmmakers to overcome. Renowned director John Ford was known for shooting only as much footage as he needed to tell the story, so if the studio hijacked the editing process, they couldn’t change too much.
But to once again bring up the Special Editions, I’m skeptical as to how much Snyder can improve upon the material at hand. All Lucas did was add a scene here or there, change the special effects or “update” them, and make a few tiny edits that were actually huge and controversial. (I’m looking at you, Greedo shooting first.) So once a movie is done, there’s only so much you can do to make it better. Movies can improve in the rewrites; movies can be improved in the design stage; they can even be improved during shooting and saved in editing. But being retroactively saved in editing? That’s a hard sell, Zack.
It also doesn’t help that both Warners and Snyder have cynically gotten people’s hopes up by teasing the Snyder Cut as much as possible. In March of last year, Snyder said his cut of the film did exist, and that it was all on Warner Brothers to release it. He even posted a picture on social media of what appear to be tapes or film reels with the caption “Is it real? does it exist? Of course it does.”
So the cut exists. But Snyder is still getting $30 million for reshoots and to complete the special effects. Which raises the question: If the movie was basically done, why all the reshoots? The history of this movie is paradoxically well documented and yet very murky. According to some sources, 80% of what was in the final release was shot by Snyder, but Snyder and his collaborators insist less than a quarter of what Snyder shot was used. This is one of those things where what both sides said can be true. Snyder isn’t known for his brevity of storytelling, so it’s entirely possible to cut the majority of what he shot, and still have it be a majority of the movie.
But let’s get away from the he said/she said aspect and look at it from a filmmaking perspective. Kevin Smith had this to say about the cut when he got wind of it:
Smith: The “Snyder Cut” that, again I haven’t seen, but the one I’ve heard everyone speak of was never a finished film. It was a movie that people in production could watch and fill in the blanks. It was certainly not meant for mass consumption.
Critics described Justice League as a “Frankenstein” because two directors with very different approaches worked on the movie, and it created a dissonance in tone. So Snyder is getting a chance to “finish” the movie. But if we’re staying with the Frankenstein metaphor, the good doctor Snyder is still cutting up the corpse and adding different parts, and these are parts he still has to make.
And this is Zack Snyder we’re talking about here. So he’s likely going to cut Joss Whedon’s jokes, re-color grade the print, and add a lot of slow motion that suddenly ramps into regular speed. But how will that improve the film at large? For the sake of comparison, I rewatched Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and its accompanying extended cut (because I am a glutton for punishment), and I have to agree with some critics that yes, the story is definitely more coherent with the restored footage.
It’s also longer. 31 minutes longer. So even though it’s more coherent, it’s also still a slog, and the following problems I had with the film remain:
- Jesse Eisenberg’s baffling, shrill performance
- The inexplicable dream sequence Batman has in the middle of the movie which shows him fighting a dictator Superman in a post-apocalyptic future that does nothing for the story but establish that Batman thinks Superman is dangerous, which we already knew
- Despite Batman being existentially afraid of Superman, and the film literally being called Batman v Superman, their conflict is resolved with 20 minutes left to go so the actual climax of the film can be our two protagonists teaming up with Wonder Woman to fight a terribly derivative Doomsday
- Speaking of Wonder Woman, her arc has absolutely nothing to do with the two protagonists’ conflict at all, and she’s clearly shoehorned into this movie to set up her presence in the Justice League movie
- And who can forget the exchange that ends our heroes’ blood feud? “Save Martha!” “How do you know that name?!”
Seriously, the extended cut is just the same movie with extra scenes shoved in. I know some people will point to things like the varying releases of Blade Runner, or the Richard Donner cut of Superman II as examples where a director’s cut improved upon a film. But I’ll counter that Blade Runner suffered from studio interference after shooting had wrapped due to negative test screenings, and Donner had decades to establish his new cut of the film, and while the latter can be said to be an improvement, it still didn’t elevate the movie into “lost classic” territory. It’s still the same movie with Richard Lester’s offbeat humor cut out. That may seem an oversimplification, but using Rotten Tomatoes as an imperfect measurement, the movie’s score went from 87% for the original cut to 90% for the Donner cut. Not exactly a huge shift in the cultural consensus.
So, where do we go from here?
Let’s stop talking about what the Snyder Cut is or is not. It hasn’t come out yet, so that debate will continue, and I’m nearly at 3,000 words here. It’s time to discuss the real elephant in the room. What does the release of the Snyder Cut and all its publicity mean for movies and the industry?
Already, David Ayer is demanding to have an “Ayer cut” of Suicide Squad. This very website has covered the behind-the-scenes foolishness of Suicide Squad, but once again, what is Ayer proposing to do that will make the film better? He’ll cut out all the trailer-ready pop songs and use a few alternate takes. In the end, the story structure will remain the same, and the movie will still contain Jared Leto trying to devour sets whole in his performance as the Joker.
While I mentioned earlier that fan outcry can be a good thing, the question is how much should fan chatter affect releases? Snyder probably would have gotten a chance to release a director’s cut in the future anyway, but now he’s getting $30 million and the cast of his movie to participate in reshoots, rather than, you know, working on other projects.
Hollywood can be a cutthroat place, and several interesting projects have died before they had a chance to see the light of day. If you want, go to Wikipedia, and read the articles they have on the unrealized projects of film directors, from Hitchcock to Kubrick to Tim Burton to the Wachowskis. Sometimes, the movie you should have gotten isn’t the movie that gets released. It can be disappointing, but in the days of yore, you watched the bad or mediocre movie, and you moved on. In this day and age, however, the day and age of my daughter, you just bug creators until they give you exactly what you want, apparently.
Seriously, what projects or new cuts are next? Is HBO going to remake Game of Thrones season 8? And what if Disney jumps on the bandwagon? Are Phil Lord and Christopher Miller going to get a second shot at Solo: A Star Wars Story? Will they cave and make it so The Last Jedi was all a dream? Will Colin Trevorrow get a chance to make his Episode XI script? Really, what is the limiting principle here? Will it be that every director whose movie doesn’t turn out the way they want will be able to cry foul and get a second chance?
In all seriousness, is this really what we want the entertainment world to look like from now on? Movies that came out not five years ago getting glorified extended cuts premiering on HBO Max just because the production was a nightmare behind the scenes? And besides the Snyder fanboys and the DC die-hards, who on earth wants a four-hour superhero movie, especially one directed by Zack Snyder? Four hours is Lawrence of Arabia and Ben Hur territory. How much colorless, ramped-up slow motion fight scenes do you guys want to watch in one sitting?
It’s bad enough that this will only feed Snyder’s ego. With an entire fanbase willing to go to great lengths to pressure a studio to re-release a new cut of his film, this experience is not going to inspire him to reflect on his filmmaking methods or talents, but only convince him that his vision is genius and that he can do no wrong. But what of the fans themselves? How are they any different from my seven-year-old? To them, it really is just as simple as looking at the creators and telling them “give me more.”
While a business needs to keep its customers happy, a film is not an iPhone. It’s not something you mass produce. You can’t just have an update or new version come out that makes all its problems go away. It’s a work of intellectual and emotional collaboration that involves the work of lots of different people, and with any endeavor involving that many people, there are a lot of things that can go wrong, or things that just don’t turn out as planned.
Maybe the Snyder Cut will vastly improve the movie, or maybe it won’t. But if it disappoints everyone, how many will keep indulging their inner seven-year-old and keep saying “give me more”?